25–31 March 2018.
Often when we pray, we ask God to change something about the world around us: to change our situation, to solve the problems we are facing, or to overcome the challenges ahead. But in Psalm 51 the writer recognizes that the greatest problem he faces is not outside in the world but inside in his heart. Psalm 51 is a profound prayer – not that God would change the world, but that God would change us.
It takes bravery to pray this way, for 3 reasons. First, it’s only when we truly face up to our own sins and our deep, deep failings that we can understand our need for God’s forgiveness. Seeing other people’s problems is easy, but it takes courage and honesty to look critically at our own lives. Sometimes in church our mouths ask God for forgiveness, but our hearts don’t really mean it; that’s because our eyes haven’t really been brave enough to look and see the sin inside us.
Second, to pray this way is to know that changing our lives is something that is finally beyond our power to do. Yes we should try hard to change, and we should put all our efforts into avoiding sin. But no matter how hard we try, we will always be sinners. We can’t heal our nature or wash away our own sins. We can’t save ourselves. We need God’s grace to heal us, Christ’s forgiveness to surround us, and God’s Spirit to support and transform our lives. If we just had to depend on ourselves, we would have no hope at all.
Third, we can only pray this way when we are brave enough to finally let go of control and trust God. The psalm opens with the plea to God to be gracious and merciful. And in Jesus we see God’s answer to that prayer: He really is gracious, he really does love us even though we are sinners, and he does have mercy on us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us, and through his love for us he truly does forgive and save us. That’s why we can come to God now and pray this way – not because we doubt God’s ability to love us and forgive us, but because we know that God loves us, we know that God is gracious to us, and we know that God will help us to truly change.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis